GREENWICH — New season, new faces, same success?
That could stand as the motto for the Greenwich High School baseball team during the opening week of the season.
The Cardinals took the first step toward changing that question mark into an exclamation point on Friday afternoon with an impressive 8-4 home win over New Canaan in an early showdown between two league and state contenders.
“It was a great job today, the team did very well,” said Greenwich catcher Jon Dreher, one of the few returning starters, who finished with 3 hits and 4 RBIs. “I’m very proud.”
The Cardinals (2-0) finished with the best regular season record in the conference a year ago, but it was the Rams (2-1) who were one of three FCIAC teams to take home a postseason title, winning their first state championship in 63 years.
Greenwich never trailed in the game and had an answer for every New Canaan rally, scoring twice in the bottom of the fifth after the Rams had tied the game at 3-3 and three times in the sixth after its lead was cut to a run in the top half of the inning.
“We talk about playing seven innings,” said Phil Tarantino, who took over as the Cardinals’ coach this spring after nine seasons as an assistant to Mike Mora. “Don’t flinch, just keep playing and in the end we’ll see where we are. To the kids’ credit they just battle at the plate.”
New Canaan pitcher JR Anderson gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings, hurt by three hit batters in the first three innings that all ended up scoring.
“He hit about 85 percent of his spots,” New Canaan coach Mitch Hoffman said. “For the first game out he did a good job.”
Dreher drove in two of the runs with RBI singles.
“Coach just said choke up on the bat a little, take a good swing and be short to the ball, and that’s what I was trying to do,” Dreher said. “Luckily I connected with it. (Anderson) was throwing hard.”
New Canaan got a run back in the fourth on a long home run by Dan Rajkowski and tied the game an inning later. Kane Curtin singled, Max Wilson doubled and Alex LaPolice hit a sacrifice fly. A throwing error on the play led to another run and a 3-3 tie.
But the Cardinals always responded. In the bottom of the fifth Devin McGrath, who scored 4 runs, led off with a double — one of five by the team — and Kyle Dunster walked. New Canaan appeared to escape with minimal damage as a run scored when Dreher hit into a double play.
Justin Gaccione and Sean Marks followed with back to back doubles to make the score 5-3.
New Canaan got back within a run in the sixth when, with two outs, Zack Smith doubled and Brandon Abate singled.
Greenwich came back with four of its 11 hits in the bottom of the inning to break the game open. Dreher had the big one, a two-run double.
“I can’t say enough about Jonny Dreher,” Tarantino said. “Even in preseason he has been hitting. He makes his adjustments at the plate.”
JT Hintzen went the first five innings for Greenwich to get the win. He allowed three runs — one unearned — and three hits against one of the state’s best offenses.
“Having all these tough teams early in the season is a good prep,” said Dreher. “We’re not going to have to face as many teams as good as New Canaan.”
While it was easy to use the “possible preview of the FCIAC championship game” angle, Dreher said there was another benefit to seeing the Rams in their first league game.
“I was telling these guys before the game this might be the most intense team we play all year,” Dreher said. “Just the way they carry themselves on the field.”
Wilson finished with two of New Canaan’s six hits.
“I think it’s a lot closer than the score indicates,” Hoffman said. “A couple of bad pitches on our part, and they’re a very good team. A deep history of being good. They capitalized on our mistakes. Good teams are going to capitalize. It’s a good thing to see Greenwich the third game of the season and a bad thing. It’s a long season.”
One, Tarantino stressed, that will not see a deviation in the Cardinals’ philosophy.
“We teach the kids to play the right way,” he said. “These kids believe in each other. There are a lot of seniors starting and they are just having fun playing baseball, so our expectations have not changed.”
Greenwich 8, New Canaan 4
New Canaan 000 121 0—4 6 0
Greenwich 201 023 X—8 11 2
WP — JT Hintzen (1-0). LP — JR Anderson (0-1)
Highlights: NC—Max Wilson 2-3; G—Jon Dreher 3-4, 4 RBIs, Devin McGrath 2-2, 4 runs, 1 RBI, Hintzen 6Ks, 1BB, 2ER in 5 innings.